Pirates pull out thriller in finale

Published 11:34 pm Friday, November 23, 2012

East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden (5) celebrates with his teammates during the Pirates 65-59 double overtime victory over Marshall in both team’s regular season finale on Friday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. (ECU Photo/Rob Goldberg)

GREENVILLE — It was without a doubt the shootout that everybody expected it to be, and in the end East Carolina squeezed off the final shot from close range as a sneak by quarterback Shane Carden cemented a 65-59 double overtime victory over Marshall on Friday in both teams’ regular season finale.
With the win, the Pirates improved to 8-4 (7-1 Conference USA), giving third-year coach Ruffin McNeill his best record since taking over the program.
“To get eight was big, we wanted eight. Now we want to get nine,” McNeill said. “I thought finishing 7-1 in the conference was big, winning seven conference games out of eight is big for us.”
The victory over Marshall (5-7, 4-4 C-USA) keeps East Carolina’s hopes of clinching a Conference USA East Division title alive. However, for that to happen UAB (2-5, 3-8) must pull off a stunner against East leaders Central Florida (8-3, 6-1) today at noon.
Once the dust settles on the Conference USA title game race, then East Carolina’s bowl picture will begin to clear up.
“There will be some ‘If/then possibilities’ on Sunday. Hopefully, we will be in Tulsa next week (for the C-USA title game),” McNeill said. “If not, then Florida (Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl), New Orleans (R+L Carriers Bowl) and Hawaii (Sheraton Hawaii Bowl) have been mentioned as possible destinations.”
An elite performance by Carden, the Pirates sophomore first-year starting quarterback, kept ECU’s title hopes alive for another day as threw for a career-high 439 yards and three scores, while rushing for three touchdowns. Carden started out the game completing his first 10 attempts and finished going 38-for-47 with no interceptions.
Pirates’ standout sophomore WR Justin Hardy caught 16 passes to set a school record to go along with his 171 receiving yards.
It was a milestone day for junior Vintavious Cooper as well, as the running back fought off undisclosed injuries to gain 52 yards on 14 attempts and pass 1,000-yard mark on the season.
It was a matchup of two of Conference USA’s most high-powered offenses on Friday as the Thundering Herd came in averaging 39.3 points per game and the Pirates were posting 28.2.
Together, Marshall and East Carolina combine to score a Conference USA regular season record 124 points, despite the fact that the Herd’s star quarterback Rakeem Cato (31-40-1, 318, 5 TDs) didn’t play in the fourth quarter or overtime due to an injury sustained midway through the third.
The Pirates, who held a 28-7 lead in the second quarter when Carden scored on his first rushing TD of the afternoon, fell behind 52-45 with 1:55 left in the ball game when running back Essray Taliaferro (27-132) scored from one yard out.
East Carolina’s hopes of a Senior Night victory flat-lined when it faced fourth-and-10 on the ensuing drive, but Carden connected with Hardy on a 19-yard crossing route to resuscitate the Pirates.
Hardy would make two more big catches to set up a six-yard TD pass to a leaping Danny Webster in the back of the end zone with :04 remaining to tie the game.
In overtime, the Pirates started on offense and scored on the first play as senior WR Andrew Bodenheimer took a 25-yard strike from Carden down the right sideline for an easy score.
Marshall would counter with a four-yard TD pass from Cato’s backup Blake Frohnapfel (12-15-1, 101, 1 TD) to Antavious Wilson to ensure another OT session.
It was there that the ECU defense came up with it’s biggest stop of the night as Chrishon Rose stripped Taliaferro and Derrell Johnson recovered it to give the ball back to the offense to set the stage for Carden’s 1-yard game-winning plunge.